Gov. John Kitzhaber’s efforts to remake Oregon public education in his own image took another twist Monday. The leader of higher education in Oregon resigned.
The sudden retirement of Chancellor of Higher Education George Pernsteiner paves the way for Kitzhaber to keep pushing for a new state bureaucracy, the proposed Department of Post-Secondary Education.
The department might be a good idea. Pernsteiner thinks so.
“We’re in a changing landscape,” he told the Statesman Journal on Monday in discussing his departure.
Pernsteiner ably led the Oregon University System during a time of growth and adaptation. A record number of students graduated last year, and a large proportion of students now start their education at community colleges before transferring to universities.
The ongoing challenges are to serve an increasing number of students who have less money for tuition, while putting Oregon’s public universities on stable financial footing, and to provide students with “what they need when they need it.”
A high school sophomore who is ready for college should be able to take college-level courses and get college credit, Pernsteiner said. A college senior who is unprepared for college or other training should have access to the classes needed to build his or her skills.
Kitzhaber’s proposed Department of Post-Secondary Education came as a surprise when he announced it last Nov. 30 as part of his draft 2013-15 state budget.
Likewise, Pernsteiner’s potential departure came as a surprise when it was broached to him by the State Board of Higher Education leadership about 10 days ago, and then announced publicly Friday.
These changes require profound faith in where Kitzhaber is taking Oregon education. He essentially wants one streamlined, coordinated system of higher education from preschool through Ph.D.
At least in K-12, the concept seems to be working. The Oregon Department of Education, which was mediocre under the past reign of elected Superintendent Susan Castillo, has rebounded with energy and leadership under Kitzhaber’s new titular role as state education superintendent.
Kitzhaber appointed international education leader Rudy Crew as chief education officer and tapped Tigard-Tualatin’s superintendent, Rob Saxton, to lead the department as deputy superintendent. Crew and Saxton have been recruiting some of the state’s top education minds to help out.
There’s a whole of bureaucracy being built and a whole lot of shuffling going around.
Kitzhaber may have the right vision, but much of Oregon is wondering how the pieces will fit together.
The Associated Press provided access to this editorial.